After twenty-five years with our little youth and family support agency tucked away in a cozy corner of Town Hall, the boss with the master plan says we’re moving things around. You know, for efficiency purposes, re-clumping offices, streamlining and all that. Charming.
Not withstanding the fact that we were perfectly content where we’ve been, one of my coworkers said jokingly, “Kevin, who the heck ever stays in one place for 25 years? …get over it!” And of course he was right! And so we took the good team-player approach and said, “Okay, we’re in.” (Like we had a choice anyway, right?)
Like every other non-profit human service provider these days, we’re broke. And so’s the Town, the State, the Feds and everyone else but the damn oil companies. So the boss says, “I’ll supply the paint for your new space but you’ll have to do your own painting….” Splendid.
Well, as anyone who knows anything about painting realizes, the actual pour the paint, dip the brush and get painting is the easiest part of the project. Prepping is everything, from filling holes, scraping, sanding, cleaning accumulated crud from the previous office residents and hauling in tools, ladders and staging for reaching ten foot ceilings. That, quite frankly, was where the real work unfolded. But with the generous help of an amazing group of volunteers, some adults with professional expertise, and others, I’ll say, with, “varying gifts and abilities,” ranging in ages from eleven to sixty, helped us to get it done and done very nicely too.
What I had no way of knowing, however, and what became lasting takeaway moments of the overall project that I treasure still, were the vignettes of sights, sounds and comments that came along the way as follows:
“Kevin,” says eleven year-old Kassidy, “This place is a mess. Can’t we just stay where we are now?”
The space we were moving into had been occupied by the Community Nurses Program. You know, nice people who do clean, gentle work. So it was hard to understand why there were so many holes, I mean big quarter coin-sized holes in not only the sheetrock, but in the hundred-year old brick work too. No matter, we had a team for that too. One calking gun, two girls and ten rags to (supposedly) wipe away the excess latex fast-drying, fill anything that needs filling kind of cement. I thought my instructions were adequate on how calking guns work and soon they were off and running. They were perfecting their James Bond 007 moves, weapons loaded, trigger ready, and started filling every hole in sight. They even filled the screw holes that held the front door handle that were temporarily removed for painting. Even though I had showed them how to release the tension on the trigger so calking wouldn’t keep oozing out, they apparently found it more exciting not to do that but to just race from hole to hole, unaware that they were leaving little streams of calking dangling along the way. They’d scoop the excess onto their fingers, onto the rags if they thought of it, and of course added their initials to their painting clothes that they were wearing for the occasion.
Everyone wanted a piece of the action. And of course everyone wanted to paint…and paint anything, right now, immediately. So picture thirteen girls (from our weekly girls support group) wielding scrapers, screwdrivers, putty knives and paint brushes. The painters….six of them, looked a little like four-year-olds eating ice cream cones on a hot summer’s day as the art of dipping ones paint brush gently into the paint and applying it evenly onto the wall was a concept still under development for most of them. They deep-sixed their brushes into the paint so far that when they pulled them out of their personal little buckets paint streamed down their brush handles, over their eager fingers and headed down their shirt sleeves before I offered some suggestions!
The new inner office arrangement (for counseling, etc.) featured a set of double French doors. That’s fifteen little glass windows, times two for a total of thirty. Picture eight high schooler’s from my teen group, two teens painting on each side of each door, with brushes flailing and chatter rolling at full speed. One of my intern’s sole function was to keep up with drips and blobs of paint pooling up…everywhere.
I discovered early on that most teens have no concept of “bright work,” meaning things you do not paint…ever. Like brass door handles, brass hinges and the clear plastic gadgets that hold large bathroom mirrors in place. These things have never been painted, and don’t scream out and say, “please paint me!” Fortunately, paint also doesn’t like to stick to these surfaces, so my “rescue team” of college interns armed with rags and steel wool undid those makeovers!
Abby, tall, athletic, apparently fearless and a ferocious scraper of bubbled up old paint above a row of windows, was hard at work and scraping away. At one point we had an assortment of eight and ten foot commercial step ladders in use, with one teen assigned to be the spotter/anchor at the bottom of each ladder. I hadn’t heard from Abby high on her perch for awhile, so when I glanced upward I gasped to see her not standing, but straddling , horse riding style, over the very top of the ten foot ladder merrily scraping away. Her spotter below on the lowest rung, able bodied but otherwise totally checked out, was busy checking his Facebook posts on his handheld. I hopped to the second rung, snapped at James to put the damn IPhone away and told Abby that even though she’s taken riding lessons, it wasn’t okay to sit up there like that. Looking puzzled, she stared down the length of the ladder, swung her leg back around and says, “Whatever.” And James, now phone free and back on task, looked like someone had just insulted his grandmother.
Things were looking pretty good near the end of three-plus hours of what I’d call “extreme painting.” Either I’ve been working with young people too long, or needed to be medicated, but as we wrapped things up I felt pretty good about doing a project with so many youngsters all at once. Teens had paint all over themselves, mostly done intentionally during the course of the afternoon. (I’d later learn that some wore their painting outfits to school the following day….as high fashion.) I noticed that some kind of whispering was going on among the pack as I was collecting brushes to soak when one of the girls said with a gleam in her eye;
“Kevin. We noticed that you have the least amount of paint on you compared to us.” And as they circled in closer eyeing my fairly unspotted black T shirt, they raised their freshly painted palms and still wet brushes and attacked me front and back!
Fair enough, I thought to myself, then said to them, “Thank you! You can all go home now!”